Can it be Venture Bros. season all year ’round? Season Five has just been killing it. I’d say it improved on Season Four by quite a bit – they’ve gotten better at doing a season arc while still having episodes that work as standalones. And unlike almost any other animated show, the characters are getting older and evolving. The status quo, and I might have said this last week, changes as fast as that of Breaking Bad and there’s a very clear forward momentum. This week’s “Momma’s Boys” is excellent. It answers questions, asks new ones, and had what might be my favorite scene of the season.
Also, for the second episode in a row, deranged millionaire John Hodgman appears for a couple of lines of dialogue. This week, he voices Maybe Man and a couple of unnamed law enforcement personnel. Either there’s a Hodgman-heavy episode coming up and he’s just voicing minor characters along the way, or he just hangs out at the Astrobase now and they’re putting him to work. I’m good either way.
“Don’t put your heteronormative gender bias hang-ups on me, man. Boys can play dress up, too.” — Hank Venture
It’s night time at the Venture Compound. Doc goes to Hank’s room to send Dermott home, and finds Dermott wearing a jacket, socks, and a bunch of shirts tied around his waist. Hank is dressed like Sonny Crockett. It’s a weird sight. Doc agrees to let Dermott spend the night if he takes out the garbage. Dermott thinks it’s weird that Doc’s giving him chores, but Hank’s cool with it because he doesn’t have to do it himself. Of course, now that Doc knows he’s Dermott’s biological father (as of “From the Ladle to the Grave”), he’s slipping into dad mode. Doc goes up to Dean’s room to tell him to go to bed. He agrees to let Dean talk on the phone for ten minutes, but that’s it – Doc is expecting a call himself. And in a bit I love, Doc warns Dean against “sexting”. He then proves he knows “sexting lingo”, but seems unclear that you need a cell phone. (Dean’s using the landline.)
Hank and Dermott leave the compound, talking about how Doc is going to fall for something. Then we see Dean talking on the phone – he’s clearly having a tough time and he keeps reassuring the person on the other end “I love you”. But then it’s Doc’s turn to use the phone. Dermott sets up a Teddy Ruxpin doll, Hank calls Doc, and then they hit play – the bear talks for a bit. You know how that whole thing worked – he tells kids stories about his friends and a mean guy named “Grumpy Bandersnatch”. Doc seems to think most of it is drug lingo, and then starts giving Ted advice – Hank says Doc will talk for hours without stopping. Dermott and Hank then leave for a Shallow Gravy performance.
Right off, it’s sad that Doc is so into having a friend and it’s actually a cruel joke. And I thought this was going a little too far with playing Doc as a dummy, but they’ll end up justifying it pretty well before the episode is over. As a teaser, I’ll just note that we last saw Teddy in “Every Which Way But Zeus”, when Hatred and the boys tried to convince Doc that he’d been kidnapped – they used Teddy Ruxpin for the voice of a kidnapper.
Super short opening theme!
HANK: “Dude! You can understand HELPeR now?”
DERMOTT: “Yeah… how’d I do that?”
HANK: “I don’t even know how I do that.”
Later on, Shallow Gravy practices in HankCo, but Doc keeps calling Dermott’s phone to talk to Ted. Hank notes that he’s going through “doll withdrawal”, which is hard to say. Another great joke has Dermott realizing he can understand HELPeR. This season has been a delight for HELPeR fans. I might be the only one, but I’m committed! Hank wants to tell Doc about their prank, but they’re afraid how he’ll take it. Cut to Doc’s room, where he’s frantic about not being able to get in touch with Ted – he’s got Sgt. Hatred setting up a terminal to trace the call and everything. Doc’s sure that Ted ran afoul of Grumpy Bandersnatch. Doc and Hatred split up to search the Compound for bugs.
Doc confronts Hank and Dermott after finding Teddy Ruxpin. They think they’ve been discovered, but Doc tells the story of how he befriended “an ex-criminal”, and now he found a tape of everything Ted’s ever said on the phone, hidden inside a stuffed bear. Oh, Doc. Meanwhile, Hatred searches Dean’s room, including his journal. Dean catches him, and Sgt. Hatred expresses his concerns. Specifically, his concern that Dean is anorexic. The phone rings, and Hank is the first to answer. It’s a girl! For Dean! Dean agrees to meet this unseen person tomorrow.
You may note that Hank answers the phone with what seems to be a combination of nonsense syllables. I have no idea how to spell what he actually says, but it’s a reference to (I think) an American Express commercial from the early 80s. Somebody at an island getaway answers the phone with that greeting. It might not be American Express, but it’s definitely a credit card commercial. It’s a memory I haven’t been able to shake, and hearing Hank say it freaked me right out.
“Last year, right where you’re sitting, David Bowie looking like David Bowie in the 70s slapped a guy with invisible arms and legs. Right over there? Brock killed a guy from Dimension C that may or may not have been an alternate Earth…. and that’s an ex-henchman from my dad’s archenemy. Pretty sure he lives in my yard now.” — Hank Venture
Dermott tries to talk Hank into leaving for Taco Bell, but Hank explains they’re in lockdown until this Bandersnatch situation has been dealt with. Gary, who’s pretty sure he’s disappeared into the shadows even though they can see him, offers to help them. Inside, Doc prepares a plan using a map, action figures, and a butter dish. The only problem is, he can’t find “By Golly Gulch” on the map. Sgt. Hatred checks his vPhone. Which, as established, is Jonas Jr’s electronics line. Note that it’s the vPhone but the jPad. I still think that’s because “vPad” sounds gross. Whatever the Venture equivalent of Siri is (it has JJ’s voice) locates the gulch.
Outside, Gary explains that they have to get committed to Dunwich Asylum – that’s where the real life voice of Teddy Talk to Me lives. (That’s the official name they’re going with.) He was caught in a fire and became a supervillain in the 80s, possibly hugging President Reagan too hard. But only blood relatives of inmates can visit, so they have to get themselves committed. Gary, by the way, has given up his SPHINX suit for a look that’s part Jedi, part ninja. And Dunwich, clearly the Venture version of Batman’s Arkham Asylum, is named for the town in which many of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are set. The three of them agree to get committed. Dermott and Gary do the Team Venture salute, but Hank can’t bring himself to do it.
HANK: “Nobody move, see. This is kind of a hold-up. We are insane criminals.”
GARY: “I’m the Viceroy! I mimic the monarch butterfly! I am obsessed with monarchs, so I mimic them.”
DERMOTT: “I’m Flying Side-Kick, and these are my magic nunchucks. That I think might be pronounced ‘nunchaku’. I am unsure of their pronunciation.”
HANK: “And I am Enrico Matassa. Latin playboy and insane egomaniac. My name means ‘Hank Hank’, and I am also using a hank of yarn as a weapon. Also this is a huge hankie.”
GARY: “And that’s our crime robot that we named CrimeRobot.”
HANK: “We programmed him to think only of crime! He’s obsessed with it! Now, drop to the ground or something. Again, we are insane criminals.”
Later, they drive the drill vehicle (from “What Goes Down Must Come Up”) up through the floor of a bank, attempting to rob it. Hank, dressed like an old-time gangster and sporting a pencil-thin mustache, announces a hold-up. Gary, back in his old henchman gear (with the addition of a paper crown), proclaims himself the Viceroy. Dermott calls himself the Flying Side-Kick, while Hank is Enrico Matassa. And HELPeR is CrimeRobot. This scene made me laugh so hard that I had to pause the DVR to get up and walk around for bit. It’s just perfect. Hank and Gary have always played so well off of each other, and when you add Dermott to the mix they get exponentially dumber. So good!
After the commercial, Doc and Hatred are in the hover tank, following the GPS directions. I feel like we haven’t seen the hover tank since Sgt. Hatred was still a villain. The GPS has to keep recalculating, possibly because they’re flying over the road rather than using it. They finally park at a rest stop and use the jeep stored in the hangar instead. A giant flying tank levitating outside a rest stop? Pretty good visual gag. Back at the bank, Hank and company are being arrested. Gary cites Guild rules – since he and Hank are clearly obsessively insane so Guild bylaws require that they be taken to Dunwich. Dermott and HELPeR aren’t so lucky, and they go to regular jail.
We see Dean wearing his ridiculous suit and holding a bouquet of flowers, waiting in a room with an armed guard. At this point, you should have figured out who he was talking to on the phone. The guard tells Dean “She really loves you, you know.” Which is kind of nice. Then “I love you. We all love you.” Dean’s not sure how to react and then another guard leads in the prisoner – Myra Brandish. Remember, Doc’s former bodyguard and the woman who claims to be the boys’ mother? In fact, I publicly stated that she was a safe bet to actually be the mother. Let’s see how that plays out! Dean and his mother embrace, and the second guard admonishes “no touching”, which will never not seem like an Arrested Development reference, but the first guard knocks him out. Myra comforts Dean and the guard rips open his shirt to reveal a tattoo on his chest – a heart above the words “Momma’s Boys”. “I love Mother”, he proclaims. Myra tells Dean to “take off your clothes and show mother your handsome body”.
Not gonna lie, this part of the episode skeeved me the hell out. The episode had me all over the emotional map. I’m totally going to get yelled at for this, but the Myra plot in this episode is what I imagine Bates Motel is. Which is why I’ve never watched Bates Motel despite the guiding hand of Carlton Cuse.
“Dude, I don’t know who’s making these things, but come on. Seriously. They all look like butterflies. What else could they be?” — Gary
In Dunwich, a psychiatrist administers a Rorschach test to Gary, who casually says that every single one is a butterfly, and probably a monarch. It’s hard not to get a Watchmen vibe here, but I don’t know if that’s intentional. Hank undergoes the same test and spins a ludicrous story behind the inkblot that involves him saying his own name a lot. Dude is committed!
Cut to Dean – the guard carries him out of the visiting room, and there’s blood everywhere. Guard says that the prisoner tried to bite Dean’s face off, and he has to get to the infirmary. The other guard follows him to the elevator, holding Myra in a headlock. Once the elevator door closes, we see the second guard is Myra in disguise, and Myra is really a very confused Dean wearing her clothes and a wig. The guard who was knocked out is wearing Dean’s suit. It’s a complicated plan. Myra rants about how it’s not fair to break up her family.
We go to Dermott and HELPeR in a holding cell – Dermott has an old-time ball and chain around his ankle. The cop says that they checked a list of Guild subordinates, and the Flying Sidekick isn’t listed. Dermott explains that he’s not a flying sidekick, “it’s flying side-kick, as in the karate move”. They made him wear the ball because they were afraid he’d fly away! Once they realize he can’t fly, they take the weight off. (“They haven’t used these in a hundred years. We got this one from the old-timey jails display in the lobby.”)
DOC: “Maybe these are gumdrop trees, I’m not a botanist.”
SGT. HATRED: “Gumdrop trees? Doc, these are the kind of trees that disembowel scarecrows looking for wizards.”
Doc and Hatred arrive at their destination, which looks pretty foreboding. Doc realizes that they’re in “Bygone Gulch”, rather than “By Golly Gulch”. As they argue, the jeep goes over a cliff. Back at Dunwich, Hank and Gary have craft time. Hank impresses himself with the paper heart he made, even though he’s not sure why they have to make hearts. Radical Left (picture Two Face and you’re pretty much there) explains that they have to make hearts because it’s the second Sunday in May and they’re all Momma’s Boys. He has the same tattoo as the guard. A massive burn victim explains that soon it will be Mother’s Day all the time, but Hank cuts him off. He recognizes the burn victim’s voice as Teddy Talk-To-Me. At this point, a riot breaks out. Inmates start punching guards, and it’s bedlam.
We catch up with Doc and Hatred. The jeep is overturned on an outcropping about halfway down the cliff. It’s precariously balanced, and they can’t get out. Doc tries to call for help on his wrist communicator, but he can only reach Sgt. Hatred. “Hey, Doc. I’m here with you. We’re gonna die together. Over.” And then we go back to jail – Dermott has his one phone call, but he doesn’t want to call his house. HELPeR advises him to send a psychic message to Dr. Orpheus. Orpheus appears immediately and puts the cops to sleep. Only then is he surprises to see Dermott – he could feel “one of the Venture boys in peril”. We all know why that is, but Dermott is behind the curve on this one.
In Dunwich, the chant goes up for Mother. Myra enters the crafts room on a platform carried by four large men. She’s wearing a blanket over her head in a way that makes her look like Mary (or any Bible lady, really), and she’s kneeling behind Dean, who’s been bound and gagged. Hank (in the back of the room) explains to Gary that she’s probably his mother. You know, we haven’t seen Myra in the present since Season Two – that was the last time the boys interacted with her. Apparently Hank and Dean have talked about her since, and Dean went to the trouble to get in touch with her. Also, just like in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills”, Myra is revealed to be at the same location as the other characters. She’s tricky that way! (Also, that’s why Gary mentioned that only blood relatives can visit Dunwich inmates.)
Myra asks Big Time (who has a clock on his face – he’s sort of a low rent Clock King, if you can imagine such a thing) and Maybe Man (who answers every question with “Maybe” and is voiced by John Hodgman) to return her to the day when “baby Dean was born” by putting him “in (her) pink pillowy womb, so I can finally give birth”. Yep, she’s nuts. And this tips off Hank – if she didn’t give birth to them, she’s not actually their mother. When she notices Hank, she demands that her minions fetch her other son. But Hank yells that she’s not his mother. Gary does the same, because he’s a good partner. And that leads all of the inmates to realize that they all want something different, and Momma can’t provide it. Ted wants to slide down rainbows. Radical Left wants anarchy, but also a nice home and a family. Gary announces that Mother built the wall, and it’s up to them to tear it down. And that’s another riot. The Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest throws a drinking fountain through the window and the inmates scatter as Gary sets out to rescue Dean.
“You see these man-boobs here? Well, they kinda turn me on. Sometimes I look at them when I masturbate and pretend they’re on a lady. There! That’s a death confession!” — Sgt. Hatred
Back at the cliff, Doc and Hatred share deathbed confessions. We come in at the tail end of Doc’s, as he explains that he let his old bodyguard believe she was the boy’s mother. Well, that explains what we just saw, while re-opening the old question of just who the mother is. Doc seems to think this was a better confession than Hatred’s reveal that he was an OSI traitor (as seen in “The Invisible Hand of Fate”). Hatred steps it up by admitting that he likes his breasts, so Doc raises the stakes by telling Hatred that he’s Dermott’s father.
DEAN: “I knew she wasn’t our mom. That would have been a good thing. And I don’t get good things.”
HANK: “Yeah, it’s just too bad that a raving lunatic that wanted to make you a baby again and then push you up her lady hole isn’t our real mom. It’s a real tragedy.”
Gary and the Ventures leave the asylum. Dean is mopey about the Myra reveal, but Hank convinces him it’s for the best. Gary lost track of Ted in all the confusion, but they have to run away when the Guild Wasp ships show up. Back to the cliff, Doc tells Hatred all about Ted and mentions that Ted is his ex-kidnapper. Hee! Doc never figured out what was going on during last season’s kidnapping, but he bonded with Ted when he was blindfolded. So it’s not like Doc fell for a stupid scheme – he’s still falling for the first stupid scheme! I think that works a lot better then Doc suddenly getting anonymous calls and having a new best friend. But it’s even sadder. Hatred finally gets what was going on, since he was involved in that fake kidnapping. He’s about to come clean when the real Ted extends a branch for Doc and Hatred to climb to safety. He has no idea who Doc is, he’s just trying to help. Doc recognizes the voice and thinks he’s finally meeting his best friend in person. Awww, poor Doc. Just like in “Spanakopita”, he’s happiest under false pretenses.
Orpheus, Dermott, and HELPeR share a cab back to the Compound. Orpheus explains that it’s not a paternity test or anything, but when Dermott summoned him, he “felt the mind of a Venture boy”. That’s good enough for Dermott. One last cut to the cliff, and Ted gives Doc a big hug before running away. Doc is happy that his friend his sweet, even if he’s a little nuts and has a messed-up face.
For a change, they replace the ending credits music with a performance of Shallow Gravy’s new song, “DIEarrhea”. (Which is not yet available on iTunes.) In the tag, Doc tells Dermott and the boys all about his adventure. Hank mentions that they were busy saving Dean from Myra, who is not their mom. Doc explains that he made mistakes and the boys needed day care. As Dermott heads out, he calls Doc “Dad”. And that’s the end! The Titmouse “chirp” goes to Demott this week, only he says “douche”. That’s about right.
Man, this was another good one. I have a lot to say on the subject of Hank and how he’s one of the best characters on the show now. He’s learned how the world they live in works, and he’s started to be able to navigate it. I’m pretty sure I’ve said it in an old recap, but I used to think Hank was going to grow up and realize that the best years of his life are over – I saw him growing up bitter like Doc Nope. Hank is going to grow up to be awesome.
Next week, OSI goes after the Guild. Interestingly, a bunch of characters who match up pretty well to the Council silhouettes appear prominently in the trailer. Dr. Z and the Wild Fop have long been speculated to be Council members, and there they are. Things are blowing up, folks!